Proposed legislation would bring more doctors to rural communities

Doctor

In an effort to solve the doctor shortage in many rural areas of the country, a senator from Montana has introduced a bill that would make it easier for physicians in medical residency programs to train and work in rural communities.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced the bill, called the “Restoring Rural Residencies Act,” last week, according to an announcement. If adopted, the bill will allow Medicare to reimburse residency programs for the time its residents spend at critical access hospitals. Current regulations restrict Medicare from covering the costs of training resident physicians at these facilities and has restricted efforts to expand the training of medical professionals in rural communities, Tester said in the announcement.

"Folks in rural communities deserve access to quality healthcare," Tester said. "Critical access hospitals are often the only place families can turn to for care in remote parts of our state. If we want more doctors to practice in rural areas, we need to train them in rural areas and this bill will get more doctors practicing in rural hospitals across Montana." The state has 46 critical access hospitals.

Americans living in the most rural areas of the country continue to lack access to primary care doctors, with nurse practitioners far more likely to serve these areas, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services helps to pay for medical residency slots across the country, but does not allow funding to follow residents to rural, ctrical access facilities. That makes it difficult to place resident physicians in rural facilities, Nicholas Wolter, M.D., chief executive at Billings Clinic, which has an internal medicine resident program, told the Billings Gazette.

"Current policy is very unfair to rural America and this legislation will help us deal with our severe physician shortage in Montana’s rural communities," Wolter told the newspaper.

A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a continued shortage of both primary care and specialty physicians over the next decade.

- read the announcement
- check out the Billings Gazette article